What about the musicians?

The pool of money in the commercial music industry is shrinking.

Here's why:

1) Music listeners don't expect to directly pay for music. These listeners are the source of all music profits.

2) Most of the profits being made off music today is centered around distribution (iTunes, Spotify, etc) or music equipment (iPods, iPhones, headphones, computers, speakers, etc).

3) There are more bands than ever before competing with each other for a relatively small amount of cash that makes it through #1 and #2. Each new distribution service requires selling more "product" for less money.

Music consumption, aside from a few exceptions, has always been managed through a middle entity. That entity might be a record label, radio, a venue, iTunes or Spotify. Consumers expect to interact with music this way.

Emerging solutions for decentralized data storage

Just as a follow up to my previous post. Came across some very interesting projects:

Owncloud
A locally installable intelligent storage server with software to handle sharing your documents, music, and other media with others. Imagine Google's suite of services and more (email, photo sharing, document editing, calendars, music streaming, remote file access) but you can choose how the software runs and how the data is stored and shared with others. I'm still a little fuzzy on how the notion of "identity" and privacy would work with a system like this, but it's very interesting as a local solution.

Unhosted
This project aims to give users the right and freedom to choose where their data is stored when used by SaaS/cloud apps. Right now companies that run apps force you to store data with them. For instance, if this project succeeds you could still use Gmail's interface but choose between hosting your data on their servers, or specify your own.

Freedom Box
Columbia law professor's Eben Moglen's project. The goal is to decentralize the net by creating small, low energy, portable plug in servers that anybody can install anywhere that encrypts all incoming/outgoing web traffic. The long term vision hints at removing the power of client/server architecture of the web and replacing it with a peer-to-peer internet. His ideas also inspired 4 kids who went and started Diaspora.
More: freedomboxfoundation.org

The implications of how iCloud stores your data (and other philosophical ramblings)

Apple's iCloud, Amazon, Google, everyone is pushing for "the cloud". The concept is to centralize data storage remotely and then share/sync that data back across all devices. A lot of current manufacturers will now be using the cloud concept to force vertical integration across all their products, apps and devices - i.e. by shipping hardware devices with no physical memory.

Why should you care? For the majority of people, this is not a big deal. My guess is people will accept the tradeoff because it simplifies data storage and improves their quality of life. However, the issue of data portability and whether or not companies will use the data as leverage to keep you locked in as a customer will eventually pop up. I anticipate that companies that support data portability, as well as gov't intervention will eventually equalize the playing field so that consumers can store their data wherever they like. That debate is probably a few years away though.

Despite how free and open the internet seems, it costs money to power and manage servers and store data (and to backup that data). One alternative to the cloud is to run your own local file server at home - for tech saavy folks this is a great option. These NAS (Network Attached Storage) file servers can be accessed across multiple devices and even prevent data loss if you get one with RAID. I believe some allow you to remotely access your data from the web as well, so its like creating your own local, private cloud*.

*NOTE: It's important to note that cloud storage is not just a hard drive in the sky but part of a new approach to software development. The point is that cloud storage abstracts our data in new ways with metadata...going beyond files and folders with physical memory addresses.

Cloud storage costs money too and right now most offer around 5 GB free with various per-gigabyte subscription models. My guess is that cloud storage will become part of other service costs such as your cell phone or internet bill. But until then, a NAS file server is a cheaper option especially if you have terabytes of data.

But as devices change their design to work with networked storage, will local data storage disappear from the market entirely? Will we be living in a weird abstract world where the entire universe of data lives in a big nebulous redundant network and "our data" is just data tagged with our name?

Such a hyper connected world raises some philosophical questions. The internet, along with advances in genetics and 3D printing challenge our accepted notions of individuality, uniqueness, intelligence and humanity. What does it mean to be different? What does it mean to be connected? If we had the choice to control every single aspect of our environment and universe and experience, would it make our lives better or drive us all to madness? What is the point of all of this stuff? Might be time to review some Dostoevsky and Nietzsche...

On Cool Kids signing with Mountain Dew

I can't fully articulate my reaction to reading this interview a few weeks back, but a couple things stick out:

1) It's crazy they got so entangled in label difficulties putting out a *debut* album. That doesn't make any sense. They signed a bad deal with Chocolate Industries when they were already booking shows with only 2 Myspace demos. Why did they even need a record label? Why did they go this route?

2) They sound really bitter and jaded in this interview.

3) Mountain Dew, a fizzy drink company, offers musicians better contracts than a record label which is supposedly designed for that exact purpose. Huh?

4) Cool Kids are working for a mega huge company that sells a product unrelated to their work. That's kinda weird. Maybe they really love mountain dew and it is essential for making their music?

20" Kick

20" x 14" kick, fully assembled. Found a new hoop and fixed an old hoop with fresh paint. Used some hardware from an older marching bass drum I had. Just needs some spurs so it doesn't roll around but otherwise complete. 20" Evans EMAD batter side, 20" Aquarian Regulator reso side. I've had really good luck with that combo.

Drum shell finished (with pictures)

For as long as I can remember, I've generally relied on a satin polyurethane spray for wood finishes. But reading about tung oil and how it makes the grain "pop" (technical term is chatoyancy) I was curious to try it, despite my hesitancy about its overall durability compared to urethane or lacquer.

I started out with 100% pure tung oil, thinned 50% with spirits and applied by hand. Originally I didn't care about building a sheen. I'm not sure why I became kinda obsessed with it, maybe because the wet look of the tung oil was so hypnotizing, and when it dried the contrasting flatness could not compete.

So halfway through I started blending in glossy spar urethane with the oil to try and build a slight satin sheen. That sort of worked as the glossiness set in the pores and in some of the grain, but altogether it was uneven.

Against my better judgement I kept fiddling to try and even things out. I applied pure oil which flattened everything too much, then tried to reapply the blend which ended up streaking again. Finally I decided to put a coat of spar urethane and end things once and for all. It turned out super glossy, which I didn't want initially, but at least it is even and now super tough. If I decide I don't like the gloss in the future I can sand down to the oil finish and try building it back up or try buffing the oil with wax (the right way to get that soft satin sheen).

Raw, no finish (click to enlarge):

After about 2 coats of tung oil:

About 3 coats of 33/33/33 blend, a few minutes after application (deceptive as it is still wet)

Final product, dry, glossy because of the spar urethane


Overall I'm happy with it and looking forward to putting it all together and playing it as part of a kit!

Drum restoration update (pictures)

Finally! I'm done stripping and sanding the drum shells. Yes, it really took this long. Part of it was that removing the glue adhesive from the shells was really time consuming; it took about 5-8 full sheets of 60 grit paper. I believe mahogany was chosen as the outer ply not for its looks but because it has large pores and adhesive really gets down in there, making it easy to glue the wrap on (great for them, bad for me). The other reason it took a while is because the weather has been cold and there is a moratorium on sanding in my apartment (mahogany dust flying around = not good).

I also had to take some time to fix some bearing edge issues (bearing edge = the edge where the drum head touches the shell). I filled holes with plastic wood putty and for warped areas I used a bunch of clamps + gorilla glue to get it back into shape.

I sanded the basic outer shell with 60 grit, then 100 grit, then finally 220 grit. The inside of the floor tom was in good condition and I didn't touch it. The interior of the kick drum shell I sanded with 100 grit and then 220. The inside of the kick is pretty gnarly, the reinforcing rings were reglued at some point in time, and I believe the shell has some water damage (evidence is cracking of the veneer and some water spots/mold spots). I also sanded through too far at some spots revealing some of the underlying poplar ply. At this point, the imperfections will have to be what makes these drums interesting...

So now the final step is finishing. In keeping with the labor intensive aspect of this project I'm going to use pure tung oil as a finish. It can take weeks to fully cure. *shakes head* But it will look pretty good, I think, as tung oil will accent the natural wood grain.

Sanded shells, ready for finishing


Bearing edge hole (filled it with wood putty)


Fixing warped bearing edge with gorilla glue + clamps


Tools of the trade


Workspace/Living room invasion. p.s. Buckets are awesome.

Pictures of the 1964 Slingerland kit I picked up

The two '64 mahogany drum shells I bought from Terry had a pearl shimmer vinyl drum wrap that somebody had spray painted black. He had also given me an old Leedy 14"x10" snare shell from 1959 that had a natural finish showing the outer mahogany. My goal is to strip away the black drum wrap and refinish to show the natural wood tone. Despite being over 50 years old these drums were in pretty good condition. I found that a heat gun was my best friend to try to remove the gunk and wrap residue.



Black wrap still on the kick, floor tom with stubborn wrap plastic, '59 snare shell on the right




Kick drum. Check out the Walberg Auge rail which is used to attach a rack tom.




'59 snare: mahogany-poplar-mahogany construction.




The inside of the drum is stamped with the year it was made - 1959. The M stands for a mahogany exterior finish.

Sounds of a different drummer

Around this time last year, I stumbled upon some youtube videos by mycymbal.com (an online cymbal retailer). I think at the time I was searching for some new thin hi-hats, something with a bit more crisp and sizzle than my previous pair. What's great about the site is you can browse forever and listen to different versions of the same cymbal (since no two cymbals, even the same make/model, sound the same) and then purchase that exact cymbal from their website. Really smart idea, especially since trying out cymbals in the store is really time consuming and the inventory is usually limited. I fell in love with two cymbals, the Istanbul Agop 24" Signature Joey Waronker Ride and a used pair of Meinl 14" Byzance Jazz Thin Hi Hats. The Joey Waronker was especially interesting because it seemed to have a sense of *color* and *shimmer* without being too clean sounding.

Partly inspired by Greg Saunier of Deerhoof's minimal setup, I've been thinking about selling my current kit and stripping down to a smaller setup with a 20"x14" kick, 13"x7" snare, cheapo GP hi-hats, and a (new?) ride cymbal. I originally wanted to get Emperor cabs to build a custom kit for me, or possibly even Precision Drum with their split/latch bassdrum, but both quoted me over $1000 for the job. So I went to craigslist and stumbled upon an amazing find: a guy named Terry selling a 1964 Slingerland Mahogany-poplar-maple 3ply 20"x14" kick and a 16"x16" tom shells. I had read really good things about these old mahogany kits and the price was right (super cheap!), despite them needing some work.

Terry is a walking encyclopedia of drum knowledge. He can tell you what type of wood each company used in what decade and when they switched their factory line to China and where the wood comes from. He spoke to me for over an hour and a half, first telling me the history of the drums I was buying from him, and then he showed me his basement which was filled to the brim with drumkits from Gretsch, Slingerland, Ludwig and more, all made of various materials and from various decades. Terry obviously had a problem, he was obsessed with collecting drums! In the end he gave me 3 amazing vintage mahogany shells for less than the price he asked for on craigslist (without me even haggling). Awesome, awesome guy. He has some videos on youtube under the username bonzoleum where he demonstrates and teaches how to play Jon Bonham / Led Zeppelin songs.

Since I was already out in the suburbs, I headed over to Steve Maxwell's Vintage and Custom drum shop. I tried out about 20-30 cymbals and ended up selecting a few favorites: A Spizzichino 18" ride, a vintage K Zildjian 18" ride, and an Istanbul Agop Traditional 22" ride. The guy in the store (who turned out to be Steve Maxwell himself) schooled me on how they order cymbals for the store, even getting down to the number of grams the cymbal weighs and how that affects the sound. He told me about Spizzichino which was my favorite, and unfortunately one of the most expensive cymbals they had. The vintage K was the only cymbal more expensive than the Spizzichino. Apparently I have an expensive ear. Dammit...

Spizzichino is one guy - a cymbal maker in Italy hand hammering his cymbals from bronze blanks. He has a really unique perspective on the craft and after watching this video I have only become more obsessed with these cymbals. The only way I can describe the sound is...colorful...complex. I almost wish I had never heard these cymbals, because they are that good. Some say he makes the best cymbals in the world.

Spizzichino from Alex Healey on Vimeo.

Slow Steam

So after my last post I did a ton of research and it turns out lots of people feel that there is great potential in an open social web. It is true that "social" is on a fearsome trending streak. But when you think about it, the web has always been social (email, AIM) so what's really changed?

I would say two things are responsible for the uptick over the last decade. First is that as people learn the language of social computing, they gain more power through the language. Somebody tweeting has a greater social advantage than somebody not tweeting. The tipping point happens when it becomes a disadvantage *not* to be tweeting.

The second reason is that technology is getting exponentially easier to understand. Good design practices and tech advances mean that the learning curve is dropping - people are adapting faster to keep up and at the same time demand more. Moore's law has crept from hardware to software, and now into our social lives.

Of course nobody can predict what technologies will trend and what won't, or even how long they'll last. Humans are complex social creatures. But I do feel that as social creatures our need to be social will break down barriers. The concept of Facebook or any one entity having a monopoly on social networking just doesn't make sense to me long term. Eventually all networks will have to open their doors and communicate with the wider web, and see each other as equally valuable. I'm not saying cliques and private networks won't exist - sure, but there will be an ongoing need for an open and standardized way to create an online identity as well as push and receive messages to and from friends, both through messages as well as real time.

I'm glad to see lots of people already working towards this vision of the future. Keep up the good fight! But from my own observations these types of changes involving mass adoption could take years or it could be a matter of months. It's just too hard to predict. But as long as people are learning and evolving, eventually there will be enough demand for an open, federated social web on a mass scale. At that point we can stop talking about Facebook all the time and get back to building real relationships with family and friends.